First the national toilet paper shortage and now a national coin shortage – both caused by the coronavirus.
According to the North Carolina Bankers Association (NCBA), all those business shutdowns that started in March, and in North Carolina will continue at least through August 7, are causing a shortage in coins in circulation.
Coins circulate when people spend cash and receive change that they then use to make other purchases, giving exact change so they don’t get more coins or using those coins at vending machines, laundromats, parking meters and elsewhere.
When the government shut down businesses in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus, people stopped shopping in person, because they couldn’t, and made purchases online, which causes no coin circulation. Instead of folks walking around with a jingle in their pocket or purse, people stacked up those coins on their dressers, or put them in drawers, jars or other containers, and many folks forgot all about them.
The result was that those coins that would have been in circulation are not. The federal mint also produced fewer coins because it was trying to protect its employees. But actually the U.S. Mint only accounts for about 20 percent of the coins in circulation. The other 80 percent are already in circulation, or were until people stopped circulating them.
According to the NCBA, the Federal Reserve is projecting the difference between supply and demand at between 2.3 to 3.5 billion coins each month through the end of the year.
Before the coronavirus response wrecked the economy, more than 4 billion coins were deposited and recirculated each month, but since April that number has dropped to less than 2 billion.
The Federal Reserve convened an industry task force to come up with a plan to jumpstart the coin recirculation process.
With all the money the federal government is throwing at the coronavirus, it seems that if the Federal Reserve really wanted to jumpstart the process, it could offer a pristine new dollar bill for 95 cents in change. Even that small profit would get people to empty their jars and drawers of coins in short order.